Post Judgment Modifications of Divorce & Paternity
By Orlando Divorce Modification Attorney Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2005
Limits On Post Judgment Modifications
In divorce and paternity cases only child support, time sharing and alimony can be modified after the court's judgment and only if there are substantial changes in circumstances.
Family law differs from other areas of law in several ways. One unfortunate distinction lies in the seemingly never-ending litigation between ex-spouses and parents. Unlike criminal and other civil cases, the same parties often return to court over what appear to be the same conflicts. Hence, one often hears the expression in family law that “a final judgment is never really final.”
However, before you resign yourself to years of litigation with your ex, keep in mind that appellate decisions have placed strict limits on both: (a) the parts of a family law judgment that can be modified, and (b) what needs to be proven to obtain a modification.
Mere dissatisfaction with a divorce or a paternity final judgment never constitutes adequate grounds for a modification. Also, equitable distribution aspects of a divorce judgment (how marital assets and debts are divided) cannot be modified. (Please see the page Property Distribution in Divorce for more information on this subject.)
What Can Be Modified If There Is A Substantial Change In Circumstances
What then can be modified in a divorce or paternity settlement? A former spouse can file a “Supplemental Petition for Modification” of his or her child support, time sharing or alimony obligation. Similarly, a parent operating under a paternity final judgment can also seek to modify his or her child support obligation.
With both alimony and child support, the critical question the trial court asks is this: Has there been a substantial change in circumstances since the entry of the final judgment, such as changes in income a disability or a move by one of the members of the divorced couple?
The court then must determine whether this substantial change in circumstances is permanent, involuntary and unforeseeable. If (a) a party should have expected this change at the time of the final judgment, (b) the party’s own voluntary actions caused the change, or (c) the change is short-term, a modification will not be granted.
Modifications Due to Income Changes
In practical terms, one usually obtains reductions in support obligations when their incomes are dramatically and permanently reduced due to events beyond their control. Conversely, ex-spouses receiving the support can realistically expect to see their support increase when the payers of their support have substantially and permanently increased their income.
Modifications Due To A Move
Parents in either divorce or paternity cases can also petition to modify the time-sharing provisions of the final judgments when moving farther or closer to the other parent. Here, the burden of proof is even more difficult. The moving party must demonstrate, not only that a post judgment substantial change in circumstances has occurred, but also that their desired new parenting plan is in the child’s best interests.
The Difficulties Of Changing Parenting Plans
While parenting plan or time sharing modifications can occasionally be obtained, parents often underestimate the difficulty in changing court-ordered parenting plans. Isolated parenting conflicts rarely justify tweaking the established parenting plan. Courts expect parents to resolve petty conflicts and avoid filing suit at the first sign of difficulty.
When I offer such candid opinions to my prospective clients, they often become defensive, or even defiant. However, once I explain the aforementioned challenges of modifying final judgments, they usually appreciate my honesty. Any attorney can tell you that you have a great case just to earn your retainer money. I prefer to give you the truth.
How to Get Help
If you want an honest appraisal of your modification case, please call me at (407) 260-6001 and schedule a free thirty-minute initial consultation with me. There is an hourly charge for additional consultation time. See Family Lawyer Retainer Fees.
At the free consultation I will listen your situation and ask you a few question. Then I will explain what I can or cannot do for you in court. If you have a case that should be litigated, I will then quote you the amount of my retainer fee. In almost all cases, the retainer fee is a fixed or flat amount that I you will know about before making a payment or signing a contract, not an hourly rate whose total payment is not predictable.
Our attorney retainer fees for post judgment modification of decrees are between $1,500 and $2,500 depending on the degree of complexity of the case.
AAA Family Law represents clients in all of the county courtrooms of the Orlando metro area. We can also represent you in any family law appeal case in the state of Florida.
Please read the Articles section for more information on Family Law topics.